Yes Solar Solutions, a Cary, N.C. residential and commercial solar installer around the Research Triangle region of North Carolina, recently received recertification by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) as an accredited solar installer, and remains the only NABCEP-recognized installer in the state.
Kathy Miller, chief executive officer of the company, touched base with pv magazine USA to discuss the company’s aspirations as it grows and the opportunities presented from NABCEP.
“NABCEP is a gold standard for electrical installers and the only accreditation for solar installation companies,” said Miller, who runs Yes Solar with her husband Stew Miller, who serves as president. “Yes, there are other kinds ‘approvals’ for companies to attain. This was technically our NABCEP recertification this past week, after first accreditation was back in 2013.”
Operating in Duke Energy’s service territory, Yes Solar supplied a vast amount of paperwork, electrical license, and then became a Duke trade ally. The utility is a source of leads for us as well as EnergySage and SolarReviews, Miller said.
“If you put in an inquiry for rooftop solar in the (Research) Triangle area, we’ll come up as a preferred installer via Duke. EnergySage also provides their own gold, silver standard system for preferred installers and also for buying leads, while SolarReviews does essentially the same thing,” Miller said. “Submit lots of paperwork, get a lot of customer site reviews from installations, which effects your score. So it’s kind of a game.”
Being NABCEP-accredited, leads are not necessarily cheaper to the residential and commercial rooftop developer, but the recognition puts Yes Solar’s name higher up on the list of preferred installers, so there is no shortage of opportunities, she said. If a single lead is $150 to buy for an installation, SolarReviews gives the company exclusive leads for jobs, whereas a job offered to three installers may be available for $98, for instance, she said.
Yes Solar generates leads organically straight from its own website, from the utility, EnergySage, SolarReviews and the Solarize the Triangle system. Solarize the Triangle 2022 is a collaboration between the Triangle Council of Governments and the 11 participating communities that put together a request for proposal (RFP) for the bid.
In 2022, Yes Solar won the bid exclusively and is the only installer authorized to contact leads Solarize provides, execute contracts and install the systems, Miller explained.
A low to moderate income (LMI) component of Solarize 2022 uses grant money and negotiates lower prices via group purchasing to install solar on homes that might not have access to solar otherwise, and is expected to roll out in June, Miller said.
Solarize the Triangle 2022, with a contract deadline of March 31, has pushed Solarize into tier 6 of the residential pricing echelon, with more than 1,200 kW enrolled in Tier 6 and fast approaching Tier 7. Customers get a further discount for each tier of enrolled rooftop solar capacity,” Miller said, with the residential platform starting at $3.02 per kW for an averaged sized system, and will go as low as $2.65 per kW if the company reaches Tier 8. Customers are already eligible for tens of thousands of dollars in rebates, depending what tier the company finishes, Miller said.
Yes Solar installs Hanwha QCells brand modules, Enphase IQ8 microinverters, SnapNRack rack systems with accompanying Tesla Powerwall batteries in select systems participating in the residential Solarize program. The commercial platform uses QCells modules, ReadyRack or EcoFoot2+ racking hardware and SolarEdge inverters.
The company has participated in other Solarize programs across the state of North Carolina since 2014, while the program is ultimately run by SolarCrowdSource, Miller said.
Solarize the Triangle 2023 is holding a workshop and open house on March 16, 2023.
IRA certainty and apprenticeship
Since forming the solar business in 2009, Miller said federal policy under the Inflation Reduction Act has for the first time created a long-term business horizon via the 30% solar investment tax credit, and other mechanisms to enhance solar procurement in Yes Solar’s region.
“Previously by June or July we’d get booked completely on jobs for the year to get done by December for the calendar year,” based on the year to year ITC credit elapsing, “but now we don’t have to get in a frenzy and can complete projects throughout the year,” said Miller.
Yes Solar has grown to 36 employees from 24 employees a year ago, and with federal and a statewide apprenticeship program included, Miller said the company expects to have 45 employees by early 2024.
Miller is part of a workforce development group engaged with local companies and North Carolina State University’s Clean Energy Technology Center, which has a 2023 solar apprenticeship program for college graduates, veterans and other citizens seeking a career transition move, she said.
Under North Carolina’s STEPs4GROWTH clean energy workforce training program, participants can earn certificates and build skills to earn a bachelor’s degree. The system is arranged by sectored partnerships in Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, Clean Vehicles and Grid and Storage. At least six universities and high schools are participating in the program.
The NCSU Clean Energy program is holding a March 15 webinar session at 1:30 pm ET to provide a solar workforce development open session for interested candidates seeking a solar career.
The apprenticeship requirement of the IRA requires that any U.S. taxpayer who employs four or more people must also employ at least one qualified apprentice. And, depending on when construction begins on a project, a certain journeyman to apprenticeship ratio must be met.
NABCEP accreditation is among the most prestigious accreditations that a solar installer can earn. Accreditation provides a way for residential renewable energy installation companies to distinguish themselves by adhering to a set of industry-recognized best practices.
Yes Solar’s NABCEP recertification is a solid marketing tool that gives the company’s founders a source of pride as a North Carolina residential and commercial rooftop installer, of which 75% of its business is residential projects, Miller said.
As the only North Carolina installer to achieve NABCEP accreditation, the company is well positioned to take on its clip rate of about 300 jobs per year, she said. The company reasons that some years vary based on rebates or in-state credits, while its commercial business will see about 30 jobs per year going forward, with about 3 MW of total installed capacity across both businesses, Miller said. Surety from the federal IRA’s investment tax credit and statewide rebates as a certified Duke Energy ally provide additional incentives that will support the company’s annual clip.
NABCEP is the only objective national accreditation as a solar installer, while installers seeking this recognition should expect to spend up to three months during a rigorous certification process.
Items to consider for PV installers seeking NABCEP accreditation:
- Provide proof the firm has been operating as a residential PV installation business for at least one (1) year;
- Safety compliance measure protocol adherence;
- Customer service policy, which includes customer care standards and service escalation procedures, warranty commitment and dispute resolution procedures;
- Provide an organizational policy manual, which identifies office and administrative procedures;
- Provide an employee manual or handbook which identifies employment policies and practices applicable to company personnel, as well as company code of conduct;
- Provide health and safety manual, with rules and procedures for workplace safety, including reporting of health and safety problems, injuries, unsafe conditions, risk assessment and first aid and emergency response;
- Risk manual procedure compliance;
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) compliance: companies with 10+ employees must maintain OSHA 300, 300a, and 301 forms, or equivalent government reporting forms;
- Provide environmental and community involvement policy, which details company’s environment protection standards and how the company promotes community involvement, including donations and charitable contributions.
- Send physical audit of installations to/from NABCEP for inspection;
Other companies may not qualify for all the credentials necessary for NABCEP, or installers may not have enough qualified and certified professionals, Miller said. “And it’s a lot of work and it feels like only an owner could do it,” she said.
Miller said the NABCEP the approvals are “rigorous and detailed, not just the raw goods.” From an installer’s standpoint, she said the management team took a month of gathering and filing documents and summaries, and NABCEP issued an approval within two months, while the whole process takes three months. One accredited, installers will have to renew their NABCEP certification every three years.
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